Rancor and Animosities

 Luis Rubio

Live by the sword, goes the saying, die by the sword.  In this manner, storm clouds- in the form of animosities, rancor, disqualifications and contempt- have ushered in the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador. This is a way of conducting politics that wagers on the permanence of favorable winds, of continuous support, and the resignation of the population to its fate. It is a risky bet because sooner or later, storms arise and, by then, the “others,” those who have been wronged and reviled, will be involved in other things. The politics of discord are useful in electoral times, but lethal in the process of national construction.

All nations require a level, at least a basic one, of agreement to advance; but equally valuable is disagreement, whenever the latter concerns ideas and ways of resolving problems and never involves personal disqualifications. At least this is the way that civilized and democratic societies get ahead, as the United Kingdom showed in full color this week. However, in recent months the morality is judged of persons and groups by their political position: the good are with me, the others are conservatives or, in the vernacular, highfaluting, “fifi” in Spanish. The President pardons and excommunicates at will, with an almost religious fervor. Instead of bringing the population together in what should be the essence of the governing function, he disqualifies, eliminating spaces of agreement.

No one disputes who the president is; his legitimacy is the point of departure. That the electoral process is over and that the President is responsible for the future of the country are not under discussion. The nation’s best interest lies in joining with the population as a whole in his development project: nothing works better than with the participation and acquiescence of everyone. The strategy of dividing, polarizing and disqualifying is logical and rational in times of electoral contest, but it is not only absurd in governing times –all the more so when no one challenges his legitimacy- but it is also absolutely counterproductive.

Six years comprise many months, many weeks and many more days, each of which can dawn with problems, crises and complex circumstances difficult to manage. Some of the latter are domestic, others worldwide, but problems never fail to emerge for the President of Mexico. The question is how to confront these and solve them when they make themselves known. The strategy that the President has followed to date suggests that his calculations are optimistic: everything will come out fine, there will be no problems and time is on his side. Any one of the last fifty presidents of Mexico, including AMLO’s favorites, could confirm for him that the reality is never like that.

Problems appear at the least expected time, and the government has no alternative but to act. Such was the experience of President López Portillo with the 1976 devaluation and of President Miguel de la Madrid with the expropriation of the banks and the assassination of DEA agent Enrique Camarena; of President Salinas with the explosion in Guadalajara; of President Zedillo with the 1994 devaluation; and of President Calderón with the 2008 financial crisis in the U.S. The problem appears and the government must take action extending beyond its fancies or stances. It is at that moment that what matters is not only legitimacy of origin- perennially put to the test in crises- but also the political capital that the president has accrued in prior times.

The strategy of polarization and discord to which López Obrador adheres, and which contaminates his entire Cabinet and government, does not augur well for the future. Crises call for the best in he who governs and the support of the society; when the society is divided –into the good ones and the bad- governance is difficult and, in times of crisis, impossible. AMLO’s gamble on a strategy of permanent division and disqualification entails the risk on not counting with the society when the easy times evaporate.

The ample legislative majorities that the President has allow him to suppose that the earthly kingdom is his and that no one can curtail his sources of support. But there are two scenarios of which no one must lose sight: the first is that there’s a big difference in the support a candidate can accumulate vis-à-vis the difficulties inherent to the daily exercise of the functions of government. AMLO’s current popularity could easily vanish should things not improve. The second is that, when crises materialize, all suppositions cease being valid: at that moment in time, everyone sees to his own interests and that is as true for the most ordinary of Mexicans as for the loftiest of these.

No government can have the luxury of alienating half of the population (the 47% who voted for other candidates) nor can it presume that their own base is unalterable. As Napoleon once said, “to get power you need to display absolute pettiness. To exercise power, you need to show true greatness.”

Chairman Mao was more direct in his appreciation. When historian Edgar Snow asked him what was needed to govern, Mao responded: “A popular army, enough food and the trust of the people in their governors.” “If you could only have one of the three things, which would you prefer?” asked Snow. “I can dispense with the army. People can tighten their belts for a time. But without their trust it is not possible to govern.”